ATLANTA (AP) -When Taylor Bennett was in the fourth grade, he went to hear ``Rudy'' give a motivational speech.
Daniel Ruettiger, whose dogged desire to play for Notre Dame was rewarded in his final home game against Georgia Tech (plus a movie that made him famous), doled out some advice that Bennett would put to good use when he headed off to college.
At Georgia Tech, no less.
``He talked about perseverance,'' Bennett recalled. ``He said the number one thing is getting through obstacles. You've got to persevere, keep fighting, keep believing in yourself.''
Bennett held on to those words as he spent most of his first three years with the Yellow Jackets sitting on the bench. Reggie Ball was the No. 1 quarterback, and he maintained an iron grip on the job despite plenty of head-scratching plays.
The fact that Bennett couldn't get past such an erratic passer was taken by some Georgia Tech fans as a troubling sign that he would never cut it as a starter. There was clearly a sense that Ball might eventually be replaced by some hotshot freshman, not his left-handed understudy.
Bennett finally got his chance when Ball was academically ineligible for his final college game, last season's Gator Bowl. Talk about making a statement. Bennett completed 19 of 29 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns against West Virginia.
When the Yellow Jackets returned to the practice field for a new season, there was no question about who would take the snaps. And, as if bringing an important life lesson full circle, Bennett will open his first full year as the starter against Rudy's old team.
That's right, Georgia Tech will travel to South Bend on Saturday to meet the Fighting Irish, who still haven't revealed their starting quarterback.
``I'd love to go out there and throw for 400 yards and five touchdowns. But you've got to have realistic goals,'' Bennett said. ``I just want to go out there and win. That's the bottom line.''
A year ago, Notre Dame went against Ball and held on for a 17-14 victory in Atlanta. Bennett, who is about 5 inches taller than predecessor but not as dangerous as a runner, brings a much different look.
``He's a lefty, more of a traditional drop-back quarterback,'' Fighting Irish coach Charlie Weis said. ``From watching them on tape, the things that stood out about this kid is he shows very good poise. He has a strong arm. And I think he's a very good athlete.''
Bennett, a fourth-year junior, insists that he never got discouraged during his extended time on the bench.
``Everybody wants to come in and play,'' he said. ``But there's only 11 guys can go out there on offense. It just wasn't my turn yet. To me, it was a learning experience. I just tried to learn everything I possibly could.''
Before the Gator Bowl, Bennett had only one career start (when Ball was stricken by meningitis) and a few other appearances in a mop-up role. There was nothing to indicate he would have such a breakout performance against the Mountaineers.
``It helped him tremendously,'' Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey said. ``It helped everybody tremendously. The more experience you have, and the more positive experiences you have, it helps you.''
It would have helped even more if All-America receiver Calvin Johnson had returned for his senior season. He's now with the NFL's Detroit Lions, who drafted him No. 2 overall.
Johnson hopes to be in South Bend this weekend, but only as a spectator. When he phoned up Bennett a few days ago, the quarterback couldn't resist a chance to kid around with his former teammate.
``I told him, 'If you had come back, you could've had the Heisman and everything else, man,''' Bennett said, breaking into a grin.
Instead of relying on one dominant receiver, the Yellow Jackets plan to spread the ball around. The leading target figures to be James Johnson, who just happens to be Bennett's roommate and got a firsthand look at his determination.
``He's been waiting for his chance,'' Johnson said. ``He has the whole season ahead of him. Ever since the summer started, he's been throwing, he's been watching film, he's been preparing for this game and the rest of the season.''
Bennett showed everyone his competitiveness during a preseason scrimmage. After throwing an interception, he got into a skirmish with defensive end Darrell Robertson, tossing the bigger player to the ground.
``Things like that happen all the time,'' Bennett said. ``I guess it's unusual for a quarterback. I know when (NFL quarterback) Vince Young did it, they had to have a press conference. But we're fine. Things like that happen in practice. You just move on.''
Rudy would have been proud.

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